Deaths from Covid-19 ‘now at imminent risk of increasing’, Holohan tells Donnelly

Letter warns State’s capacity to undertake testing and contact tracing ‘likely to be constrained over the coming days’

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. File photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. File photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

 

There is an “imminent risk” of increasing admissions to hospital and critical care and a “high likelihood” hospital capacity will be exceeded if current Covid-19 trends continue, the Minister for Health was warned earlier this week.

Stephen Donnelly was also told, in a letter sent by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan on Monday, that deaths are “now at imminent risk of increasing”.

Mr Donnelly was told that if the current trends seen in infection are not addressed, “there is a high likelihood that hospital and critical care capacity will be exceeded and that non-Covid health and social care services will be significantly impacted”.

The letter, which was sent to update the Minister in advance of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, also warned that the State’s capacity to undertake testing and contact tracing “is likely to be constrained over the coming days”.

Dr Holohan also expressed the view that Level 5 measures will be necessary, and told Mr Donnelly that a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) currently under way on Wednesday could be brought forward to inform Cabinet considerations, if needed.

Dr Holohan said that on Monday, the epidemiological situation in the State was “giving cause for grave concern”, which in turn was amplified by increased intergenerational socialisation anticipated around Christmas, and the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom.

The European Commission’s Health Security Committee (HSC), Dr Holohan wrote, was on Monday anticipated to recommend that countries introduce “domestic public health restrictive measures to slow down further the spread of this variant”.

The Minister for Health was warned that there had been a 65 per cent increase in positive cases notified in the previous seven days, that the five-day rolling average had increased by 82 per cent, and that the seven and 14 day incidence rates per 100,000 of population had grown by 65 per cent and 39 per cent respectively.

Meanwhile, the percentage of positive tests was growing, and referrals for swabbing on Monday had doubled in a week. He said there was “high and rapidly increasing incidence and widespread community transmission”, with multiple clusters. Admissions to hospital and critical care had not decreased substantially and “are now at an imminent risk of increasing”.

“If current trends are not addressed, there is a high likelihood that hospital and critical care capacity will be exceeded and that non-Covid health and social care services will be significantly impacted.” He said there was a concerning level of outbreaks in nursing homes.

“The pandemic is escalating rapidly, both in Ireland and internationally,” Dr Holohan wrote, and that must be viewed in the context of increased national and international travel, household mixing, and continued operation of hospitality, religious services and other indoor events where households mix and which “may act as loci for ‘super-spreading’ events.”

He also flagged that Nphet will consider recommendations, and the timing of measures, “in the context of the decision by Northern Ireland to implement comprehensive measures from the 26th December and the need to avoid any unintended cross border movement into the country as a consequence.”

He said: “There is no basis upon which to believe, at this time, that the situation will not continue to deteriorate in the days ahead.”